At the start of stage 1 of the Amgen Tour of California, the Kenda/5-Hour Energy squad was bundled up for the cold conditions and lined to start on Sunday in South Lake Tahoe with the rest of the peloton. But due to extreme weather conditions and potentially unsafe roads, the stage was first postponed two hours and then cancelled as the riders were about to begin to race.
Such a decision impacts the morale, preparation of the riders. “The guys were all ready to race, all this sitting around and the uncertainty plays havoc with trying to get prepared for the race.” explained Directeur Sportif Frankie Andreu later that evening.
However Andreu does think that the race organization made the right decision. “I just wish it would have been 11 o’clock instead of getting everybody dressed and standing on the line. Once it got to that point of standing on the line, the guys wanted to race but driving and seeing the conditions, it was the right decision because it would have been dangerous.”
His riders, already dressed for the stage, rode for about one hour in the wintery conditions before making their way to that night’s accommodations to the get ready for the next stage. The same problem could be faced for stage 2, which starts in Squaw Valley and takes the peloton over Donner Pass, which at over 7,000 feet could be icy and covered in snow. All these changes in scheduling is causing headaches to everyone logistically getting the riders and the equipment ready.
Canceling the stage did take away an opportunity to get into a break and try to get up the road. “But at the same time I think, regardless of the weather, this would have been a very difficult stage. On the first climb, it would have blown apart and had a good chance of riders missing out so I think for everybody we’re still on the same time on GC.” Andreu said. “In that aspect it’s a positive, it’s just a shame that for spectators, television we missed a day of bike racing in the US.”
But there are still six more days of hard racing left and the plan for the team remains the same. “We have Ben Day which we’re focused on keeping up there in the general classification, so our first priority is protecting him. At the same time we have our sprinters, Luca Damiani, Shawn Milne, Chad Hartley.” said Andreu who gave stage 2 as an example for a stage well suited for his sprinters. “Every day you have to try to win a stage. We’re definitely going to be participating in the race, trying to get into the breaks but focusing on Ben and trying to get up there in the sprint.
While Day will be saving himself for the the time trial in Solvang but also the preceding stage with the mountain top finish on Sierra Road, it’s go time for the other riders on the team.
“Ben has kind of a free pass to ride and sit in and wait for the time trial.” commented Andreu. “Each day is a different strategy, Ben is our protected guy and the other guys are here to race. I don’t have a bunch of guys sitting here waiting for the time trial, we’re here to be in the break and try to go for that chance to win.”
The team has not targeted any one specific stage but all the stages. “Each day is a matter of following the move, being in the break and setting it up for the finish. We have to take it day by day, we’re not going to pick one day to put our racers all on the line, every day we’re going to put everything out there which is why we have eight guys on the team, it doesn’t have to be the same guy every time. You have to split that up and that’s how you create a good team by sharing that workload.”
For Andreu, it is very important for the riders to be aggressive and to be seen at the front of the race. “It shows your strength, that you can actually race in the race and not just follow. I think we have one of the most powerful team in the US and this is a chance for all of our riders. They’re happy to be with Kenda/5-Hour Energy and may want to move on, they want the next step. I tell them, if they want to do that, they have to demonstrate it against the best guys here.”
The Amgen Tour of California presents a mix of ProTeams, Pro Continental and Continental teams. Andreu thinks that domestic teams can stand on their own and be successful against the bigger teams, including winning stages and taking top 10 on GC.
“I think in the climbing stages, the mountain top finishes, it will be difficult for many of the domestic to be able to compete with the ProTour guys.” he said. “On the flatter stages and getting into the break, I think the domestic teams will be very challenging and that’s what the Tour of California is known for, we don’t sit around, all the US teams will attack, break it apart if possible and European teams have to respond to that. So, it’s a good balance, making the powerful teams try to chase the break down, try to wear them out so we have a better chance at the finish.”
Getting top 10 on GC would make the Tour of California a success, but Andreu also wants a stage win. A big goal for the team in his first time at the race.
“It is a big goal,” agrees Andreu, “but it would be stupid to come in here to think less and expect less of the riders. So they know that’s what we want and what they need to race for and that’s how they need to race, race to win. And that’s how we should do every race we go to, just because there are stronger guys here on paper, it doesn’t mean that they won’t have a bad day, or they’re going to have to pedal their bike the same as the other guy. In the end, we all have the same chance and obviously, it will come down to whoever is the strongest, we’re going to put our guys into position where they can win a stage, they ever have it or they don’t.”
The Kenda/5-Hour Energy roster for California is Ben Day, Luca Damiani, Roman Kilun, Shawn Milne, Phil Gaimon, Jim Stemper, Chad Hartley and Jake Rytlewski.